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Sue Birnie :
23 article(s)

Sue Birnie writes from Ontario in Canada.
April 9th, 2004
What Happens When Teachers of Faith Don't Know?

The small, white-haired woman leading the discussion hesitated.
She coughed and bit her lip but managed to read the information on the paper clutched in her shaking hand. She spoke of the Church and Catholic beliefs and, sitting in a semi-circle before her, the members of her parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) group leaned in to listen.
For many of the class members—unbaptized and baptized non-Catholics—the information she shared was new, neat knowledge about a faith they sought to join. For me—a Catholic theology student and neutral observer placed in the parish by my school—the information was wrong.
Just the facts, ma’am…
The facts, I thought, were important. The

August 19th, 2003
Discovering Our Powerlessness Without Electricity

We were at the third gas station before we knew we were screwed .
“No gas-no power!” a red-faced woman with a thick Newfoundland accent shouted as we pulled the car up to the pumps. Her hands sprayed sweat as she waved her cell phone wildly. “No power anywhere!”
My companion-an acquaintance on a hot day’s business trip to Montreal and back?blinked. She had driven 250 miles with me, a native Montrealer, as her navigator and, as the gas gauge jiggled at a quarter of a tank, she clearly needed direction. We had 110 miles left to go. How would we get home?
“We’re hooped!” the Newfoundlander wailed. She leaned against her dirty red pickup and sighed. The highway-side…

August 17th, 2003
Canada Brings Gay Marriage to the World - Is the World Ready?

By all accounts, Gay Pride Week in Toronto was different this year. Normally, the festivities draw thousands of tourists to the capital of Ontario and the annual parade?that took place on Sunday June 29?can attract hundreds of thousands. This year, however, tourism was down. SARS paranoia, it seems, still spooks Toronto’s image. Hotels normally filled with Gay Pride revelers remained half empty.
It’s not just SARS, though, that has changed Toronto’s Pride celebration: it’s marriage. On June 10, the Ontario Court of Appeals ruled that the province’s marriage laws were unconstitutional because they prevented same-sex partners from marrying. While the court’s…

August 14th, 2003
The Divine Possibilities of SCUBA for Two

We were on our honeymoon when Steve suggested I take a dive. SCUBA diving’s great, he explained. “The water, the fish-you’ll love it!”
I wasn’t so sure. In all my years of swimming, I always believed that the water’s surface was the place to be. What if I got cold or lost in the waves?
Steve, a certified SCUBA diver, thought I was nuts. And chicken. And he was right. For all the complaints of chill and disorientation, I was really afraid of being underwater and, of course, drowning. For the rest of our honeymoon and during the next year, Steve nagged me to dive. He said it was too divine an experience to miss.
Snorkel this
I took the plunge and, pathetically, snorkeled in our bathtub…

April 12th, 2003
Scripture Reflections for Sundays in Lent

Readings:
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:7-9
John 12:20-33
I live in an ugly building. It’s a brown and teal low-rise that winds around a parking lot like a drunken staircase flipped on its side. Not surprisingly, the building was constructed in the 1960s when, apparently, creative architecture called for convoluted hallways and unmarked doors at every corner. My building is a labyrinth. Pizza delivery is a nightmare.
Fortunately, in the 1960s, someone also had the genius idea of designing each individual apartment with a six-meter wall of windows. Most tenants take advantage of the light and house endless plants on their windowsills. At dawn, when it’s still early enough to peep through living…

April 3rd, 2003
The Spiritual Value of Bitching to God

The Bible’s full of angry people. Noah’s mad at his sons, Moses is mad at the Hebrews, and Mrs. Job, after a day of awful luck, tells her husband to “curse God and die.”
Not surprisingly, this anger helped fuel a peculiar type of prayer amongst the people of ancient Israel: the lament. The lament is a formal complaint to God in the hopes that things will get better. Many of the Psalms bristle with rage. It’s not just rage for the sake of rage, though. The point of a lament is to get God’s attention.
Earth to God
One of my professors wants God’s attention. Recently, he recruited several of us theology students to help him organize a whole lament worship service, a bittersweet…

March 19th, 2003
The 26-Year-Old Buddhist Nun and Activist Won't Be Silent

Type Ngawang Sangdrol’s name into any Internet search engine and prepare to be bombarded. A quick Google hunt reveals over 2800 web pages carrying her name?with good reason. Ngawang Sangdrol, a Tibetan Buddhist nun and Tibetan independence activist, was for a time China’s longest-serving female political prisoner. Before her October 2002 release on medical grounds, Sangdrol had spent 13 years in a Chinese jail. She is now 26 years old.
Sangdrol’s activism started young. In 1990, at age 13, she and other Buddhist nuns were arrested in Lhasa, Tibet for peacefully protesting against the Chinese. During her first few months of incarceration, Sangdrol was beaten so often that she sustained…

February 18th, 2003
What We Needed to Do for Love and Money

Two weeks before our wedding, Steve and I bought life insurance. Our insurance agent was impressed. He claimed that most young couples weren’t that responsible. I agreed and stated, “They should be. Marriage might be love but it’s also business.”
It’s not romantic but true: marriage is as much a financial merger as it is a mushy union. For Steve and I, however, wealth amalgamation meant zipping our sleeping bags together and tossing all our underwear into the same laundry basket. But little things add up. By the time we had been married 30 days, we’d accumulated a large purse of wedding gifts and an entirely new wardrobe: clothes suitable for Steve’s new job.
Earn…

January 28th, 2003
The awkward relationship between Christianity and the earth

When I first learned that a possible Hebrew-to-English translation of Genesis 1:28‘s command for humans to ‘subdue the earth’ is, literally, ‘rape the earth,’ I cheered. At the time, I was writing a paper on the sociological and environmental repercussions of Genesis 1:28, and the information supported my thesis. My Hebrew language classmates, however, were shocked. How could anyone rejoice the raping of the earth?
I thought their opinion naïve. Clearly, over the centuries, someone has rejoiced in destroying the planet. After all, with oil in the ocean, smog in the sky, and a hole in the ozone, the planet is not so pristine. It’s been quite the fall; according to the first chapter…

January 27th, 2003
Living Side-by-Side with Your Pets

I had the good end of the emergency. A friend’s husband needed surgery and her dog needed a sitter. I promptly offered my services. Quincy, a mellow Lab/Beagle mix, is a good dog—a 30-pound sausage with velvet ears and mocha eyes. I thought he might have fun lolling away a night and day with my dog, Leah, a hyper-kinetic Lab/Jack Russell squirt. When they met, late at night, their mutual doggy fatigue vanished as they circled one another, sniffed, and bumped noses. My friend and I nodded. Our dogs, now nuzzling, would get along.
And get along they did. Soon, Leah was licking Quincy, Quincy was lying down, and the two were slurping their way to happiness. My friend and I pulled them apart, the dogs as reluctant…

January 25th, 2003
Too busy for the Almighty? Maybe Not

Sister Kay is slothful. She’s a nun and professor and frantically busy. So, when she announced to my Monday night class that she is lazy, I was shocked. Spiritually lazy, she clarified. Some days, she is so busy—keeps so busy—that she doesn’t have time to sit, think, and pray. She explained that she had never considered busy-ness a sin but realized it could be, especially when that busy-ness distracted her from God.
It seemed odd. Here’s the most spiritual person I know—a woman who has dedicated her life to Christ—who frets about not being spiritual enough. I considered my own spiritual life. Do I pray enough? Do I pray at all? Is spiritual sloth something I need to worry about?
Lost in…

November 28th, 2002
The Agony of Living

Every time I attend a burial, the weather’s not good. Rain, cold, mud; the universe seems to provide a climate in tune with the mood of those gathered around the grave.
The rain returned this week as I stood in the mud and watched my brother-in-law’s aunt laid to rest. She was young, only 67, and entirely undeserving to be dead. Sprightly, bubbly, fun—pick any happy adjective and its meaning wouldn’t fully encompass the passion she had for life. I knew her for only a year but she had known me, through my sister, for a decade. When I finally met her last Christmas she folded me into her family as though we’d never been strangers.
So, this week, it was odd to stand near her grave. I knew her briefly…

November 23rd, 2002
Honoring God's Gift Through the Practice of Yoga

Winter in Ontario and I couldn’t touch my toes. I was plopped on the kitchen floor, legs spread in a ‘V’ and hands stretched towards my feet. My spine was stiff. My muscles ached. I stared at my ankles and thought, ‘This cannot go on.’
It wasn’t that I was out of shape. Rather, it was another Canadian January and the snow and cold had kept me indoors. With the exception of skating, I hadn’t been active and my body was beginning to slow. My limbs were tight. That morning, when I tried to stretch and could not, I knew I needed help. I needed yoga.
Yoga who?
Yoga is an ancient Indian exercise that incorporates controlled stretching postures and deep breathing to tone the body and soothe…

October 26th, 2002
A Spiritual Break for the Chronically Busy

We each have a breaking point. I reached mine one recent Sunday morning when, just before noon, I realized that I’d been awake for four hours and doing homework for four hours. I was reading about Lectio Divina (spiritual reading)—the practice of reading Scripture and meditating on a passage—and finding myself uninspired. Then came the advice: one should engage in Lectio Divina every day, for half an hour. I considered this momentarily, and then readied my hi-lighter, and wrote, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” in the book’s margin.
Get lostEver felt this way? You’re a student, or parent, or overworked employee, and the endless advice from physical and spiritual gurus drives you to vomit?…

September 14th, 2002
Why I Am a Catholic by Garry Wills

Garry Wills was shocked. After the publication of his best-selling book Papal Sin , which documents recent papal shortcomings, Wills not only received the expected letters from angry Catholics demanding he leave the Church, but he also received letters from confused Catholics interested in how to remain faithful despite a flawed Church authority. Readers, it seemed, weren’t content with the Vatican but worried about being critical. Could they be critical? They asked for Wills’ insight.
Why I Am A Catholic is Wills’ response. It’s a three-pronged discussion that acts as both a memoir and follow up to Papal Sin . Wills reminisces about his Catholic upbringing, offers a papal history…

July 27th, 2002
Trust Takes a Plunge

The lake was warm. I dropped into the water and pushed off from the dock. I swam into the sunshine, floated, and waited for Steve. He swam near and pointed down. He motioned to my mask and snorkel. He said, “Look.”
I hesitated. I slid my chin beneath the water. Then, my lower lip. Soon, my snorkeled mouth was submerged and my mask tickled the lake’s surface. I peered into the water. I saw fish and underwater flora and, for the first time in years, wasn’t worried about what lurked beneath the waves.
Going down
I’m not afraid of the water. Indeed, since childhood, I have known how to swim and swim well. During adolescence, however, my eyesight floundered, and soon I couldn’t read a…

July 21st, 2002
Being Happy with the Things You Own

Once upon a time, I owned one bowl and one spoon. I carried them from meal to meal?eating, washing, drying – and allotted them their own shelf in my otherwise empty cupboard. It was a low-maintenance lifestyle: I rode a bike, wore used clothes, and slept atop a futon. I aimed to own nothing. In my mind, having possessions blocked me from true happiness.
Let’s be clear. I’m not a communist. Rather, I hate commercialism and the all-powerful push to shop. I believe I am a godly creation whose worth doesn’t depend on funky sunglasses or shoes that blink. In fact, my worth is augmented when I resist the urge to own. And I have resisted. Or, at least, I did?before I got engaged.
Take this blender……

July 18th, 2002
The sad reality of garbage and cities

Toronto stinks. Or at least it has since June 26, when the 6800 City of Toronto Outside Workers went on strike . This means that, until union and employer agree on a new contract, garbage collectors will be picketing the city instead of picking up its trash.
This isn’t good. Torontonians toss nearly one million metric tonnes of garbage each year and, unless local businesses and residents pay for private removal, much of it will be rotting on sidewalks for the next few weeks. Needless to say, no one’s impressed. July in Toronto means heat and smog ; if the trash stays put, World Youth Day pilgrims might have to wrestle rats for a seat in the shade.
Is recycling still cool?
One million metric tonnes of garbage…

June 19th, 2002
Where did those pesky wedding traditions come from?

Summer’s here and weddings abound. While there’s nothing wrong with love, there’s plenty amiss with weddings. It’s a pressure cooker. Bride and groom are attacked with advice and guided towards pricey options. Money vanishes. Fights brew. It’s no surprise why couples elope.
Still, weddings are rituals and most couples follow the rules: the traditions. But what are wedding traditions and where did they come from? Are they real traditions or are they just money-grabs by the enormous wedding industry – Let’s take a look at a few.
Satin and silk
Hold on to your lace: the white dresshas only been a fixture at weddings for two hundred years. Before the nineteenth century,…

June 17th, 2002
The Ups and Downs of Natural Family Planning

In my budding feminist years, Natural Family Planning seemed as useful as tossing a grenade into a dance hall and hoping no one would get hit. It was birth control at its most non-existent: a protective shield without the shield. At the time, I assumed the Catholic Church promoted it in order to keep women pregnant. Then, I did my homework. I learned the facts, got married, and came to view Natural Family Planning as a feminist’s dream.
Bring On The Dream
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a method of birth control that teaches women to use their menstrual cycle to avoid pregnancy. It’s simple biology: during a normal menstrual cycle a woman’s body will menstruate, prepare for ovulation and possible…

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